Can listening to music keep you living well? Many researchers think so.
There has long been an established link between creative stimulation of the brain and improved memory. Sensory information, including hearing, is processed in the temporal lobe of the brain— the same region of the brain responsible for long-term memory.
Music has been shown to slow the progression of dementia-associated symptoms, reduce outbursts and mitigate behavioral issues. Music therapy can also improve motor function in some advanced dementia patients. As a known stimulator of the brain's reward response, music is an excellent tool for mood management and for augmenting mental wellness.
In fact, listening to music is even known to improve physical symptoms. It can reduce blood pressure, reduce sleep dysfunction and increase daytime alertness.
Dr. Charles Limb, a researcher at venerable Johns Hopkins and multi-musician in his own right, has found that patients who listen to music show surprising levels of brain region interconnectedness, when viewed under functional MRI, or fMRI, scan.
“There are few things that stimulate the brain the way music does,” Limb said. “If you want to keep your brain engaged throughout the aging process, listening to or playing music is a great tool. It provides a total brain workout.”
So could patronizing the fine arts improve your mental wellness?
If findings by Limb and other researchers are accurate, of course it could. The visual, performing and musical arts provide an excellent opportunity not only to socialize and experience culture, but also to stimulate thought and individual creativity.
Here in Cincinnati, there are plenty of opportunities to do so. You may already know that downtown's Music Hall is home to one of the oldest, most prestigious orchestras in the United States— the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.
What you may not know is that it also hosts the second-oldest opera company in America— the Cincinnati Opera is second only to the New York Metropolitan Opera— and a nationally-renowned ballet company, the Cincinnati Ballet, which is entering its 57th year of existence.
The Cincinnati Opera: Vanguard of New Sounds
Founded in 1920, the Cincinnati Opera is a highly-regarded ensemble that has made great contributions to the advancement of the operatic art form. It is well known for its experimental focus. It has, over the course of its history, performed a vast number of avant garde and rare operas, in addition to classics like Carmen and The Marriage of Figaro.
In 1926, for example, the company debuted Castle Agrazant— the only opera composed by American Ralph Lynford— a production that won a prestigious Bispham Memorial Medal Award. In the 1980s, the Opera’s reinterpretation of Donizetti's L'Elisir d'Amore was filmed and broadcast by PBS. In recent years, the company has partnered with minimalist composer Philip Glass to stage his historical piece, Galileo Galilei. This season, its Music Hall productions will include Il Travatore and Don Pasquale.
The Cincinnati Ballet: Grace in the Queen City
Founded in 1958, the Cincinnati Ballet did not stage its first performance until 1964. It spent the intervening years building a well-disciplined, volunteer company and instituting a culture of performance excellence that are rarely matched by civic ballets. In 1970, the Ballet hired its first ten salaried dancers, thus making the transition to become a professional company.
Its rise in the national and international performing arts consciousness was thereafter near-meteoric. The company began touring in the mid-1970s, including a performance at New York City's Dance Festival in 1975.
During his tenure as the Cincinnati Ballet's artistic director, from 1994 to 1996, Peter Anastos co-wrote a piece based on the story of Peter Pan with the Ballet's music director, Carmon DeLeone. That ballet has been performed several times— most recently last fall— and has been quite well-received.
Ballet Day and Opera Day are celebrated back to back in February.
Ballet Day is recognized annually on February 7. Opera Day— the anniversary of the first performance of an opera in America (Flora, in 1735, in Charleston, South Carolina) follows on February 8. This month is a great time to explore the fine musical arts available here. Improve your brain health by living well— and creatively— in the Queen City.